Confucianism and Its Rivals, by Herbert A. Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
Scattered through the genuine remains of certain Chinese philosophers who flourished in the fourth, third, and second centuries B.C., we find a number of pithy sayings and maxims attributed to a personage named Lao Tzŭ. Various accounts have been given of the date, place, and manner of his birth, all of which bear the stamp of legend. Some say that his mother was moved by a shooting star, under which form he came down from heaven. Some say that he came into being before the universe, and some that he was the quintessential spirit of God. Others speak of a gestation of seventy-two years, at the end of which he emerged from his mother's side; others again declare that his was a case of virgin birth. The name Lao Tzŭ is usually accepted as meaning Old Philosopher; it may also mean "old child," which latter term has been adopted by some and explained by the fact that this child's hair was white at birth, or alternatively, by a lucus a non lucendo process, that he was called Old Boy because, although existing before the universe, he never became old. All this does not by any means prove that no such man as
[paragraph continues] Lao Tzŭ ever existed. The conviction which must be forced upon the minds of all who have given serious attention to the subject lies in an exactly contrary direction; the real difficulty is with the date of Lao Tzŭ's birth, now popularly, but not authoritatively, fixed at 604 B.C.
An effort has been made, by the usual trick of interpolation, to show that Confucius paid a visit to Lao Tzŭ, and was astounded at the wisdom of the Old Philosopher. In addition to the chronological difficulty, those who favour this view have to explain away the awkward fact that Confucius never once mentions the name of Lao Tzŭ; neither does the writer of the commentary to the Confucian annals, whose record covers Lao Tzŭ's lifetime; neither does Mencius, who made it the chief business of his life to exalt Confucianism and to demolish the system of any possible competitor. The first writer of real consequence who does mention Lao Tzŭ's name, and the genuineness of whose work as a wholefor chapters and paragraphs have been interpolatedis above suspicion, lived in the fourth and third centuries B.C., and is known as Chuang Tzŭ, the philosopher Chuang, already quoted in connexion with the impersonator of the dead. He attempted to substitute Lao Tzŭ, as the spiritual guide of the Chinese people, for Confucius, whose teachings he considered likely to bring about the very evils they were intended to combat. Except in passages where Lao Tzŭ is actually mentioned, it is often impossible to say how far Chuang Tzŭ has drawn his inspiration
from the older philosopher, and how far his speculations are his own. He had only tradition to help him; it was not until a much later date that a book, said to be by Lao Tzŭ, appeared in literature. This book will be dealt with in its place; meanwhile, we may consider a few passages from the writings of Chuang Tzŭ himself, who strove to do for the doctrines of Lao Tzŭ what Mencius did for Confucianism.
"Joy and anger," says Chuang Tzŭ, "sorrow and happiness, caution and remorse, come upon us by turns, with ever-changing mood. They come like music from hollowness, like mushrooms from damp. Daily and nightly they alternate within us, but we cannot tell whence they spring. Can we then hope in a moment to lay a finger upon their very Cause? But for these emotions, I should not be. But for me, they would have no scope. So far can we go; but we do not know what it is that brings them into play. Twould seem to be a soul; but the clue to its existence is wanting. That some Power operates is credible enough, though we cannot see its form. Perhaps it has functions without form. Take the human body with all its manifold divisions. Which part of it does a man love best? Does he not cherish all equally, or has he a preference? Do not all equally serve him? And do these servitors then govern themselves, or are they subdivided into rulers and subjects? Surely there is some soul that sways them all. But whether or not we ascertain what are the functions of this soul, it matters but little to the
soul itself. For coming into existence with this mortal coil of mine, with the exhaustion of this mortal coil the mandate of the soul will be exhausted. To be harassed by the wear and tear of life, and to pass rapidly through it without the possibility of arresting one's courseis not this pitiful indeed? To labour without ceasing, and then, without living to enjoy the fruit, worn out, to depart suddenly, one knows not whitheris not that a just cause for grief?"
Chuang Tzŭ conceived of the soul as an emanation from God, passing to and from this earth through the portals of birth and death. Life was not a boon, but rather a misfortune, banishing the recipient, for a longer or shorter period, from partnership with God. Death was therefore a release, enabling the wearied spirit to return whence it had come. But the God of Chuang Tzŭ was no longer identical with the God of the Odes, though here and there traces of the old conception remain.
We are sometimes confronted with a psychological Unity instead of a concrete personality. With Chuang Tzŭ, all things are one, and that One is God, in whose obliterating unity we are embraced. "What is it," he asks, "to be embraced in the obliterating unity of God? It is this. With reference to positive and negative, to that which is so and that which is not soif the positive is really positive, it must necessarily be different from its negative: there is no room for argument. And if that which is so really is so, it must necessarily be different from
that which is not so: there is no room for argument." Therefore we are advised to take no heed of time, nor of right and wrong, but, passing into the realm of the Infinite, that is, of God, to take our final rest therein. Contraries, he explains, cannot but exist, but they should exist independently of each other, without antagonism. Such a condition is found only in the all-embracing unity of God; in other words, of the Infinite Absolute. There, all distinctions of positive and negative, of right and wrong, of this and that, are obliterated and merged in One. But this still leaves us far from the desired goal. According to Herbert Spencer (Principles of Psychology, i. p. 272), "The antithesis of subject and object, never to be transcended while consciousness lasts, renders impossible all knowledge of the Ultimate Reality in which subject and object are united." Chuang Tzŭ, however, has an illustration which, if it fails to prove that the antithesis of subject and object may indeed be transcended, has had at any rate the merit of gaining for its author the sobriquet of "Butterfly Chuang." It is brief, and to the point. "Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. Suddenly I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man."
"He who knows what God is," says Chuang Tzŭ, "and who knows what man is, has attained. Knowing what God is, he knows that he himself proceeded
therefrom. Knowing what man is, he rests in the knowledge of the known, waiting for the knowledge of the unknown. Herein, however, there is a flaw. Knowledge is dependent upon fulfilment. And as this fulfilment is uncertain, how can it be known that my divine is not really human, my human really divine?" By these words Chuang Tzŭ means that not until death lifts the veil can we truly know that this life is bounded at each end by an immortality from which the soul originally came and to which it finally reverts, thereby admitting that his dogma is no more than a human speculation, and certainly not of the nature of a revelation from God Himself. He goes on to say that it is all-important for us to have men of transcendent knowledge, such indeed as were the men of old. "For what they cared for could be reduced to One, and what they did not care for to One also. That which was One was One, and that which was not One was likewise One. In that which was One, they were of God; in that which was not One, they were of man. And so between the human and the divine no conflict ensued." Confucius, who is frequently introduced by Chuang Tzŭ into imaginary conversations, is here made to confirm this view. The occasion was an historical one, and is mentioned in the Analects (Lun Yü). Confucius and his disciples were in danger, while travelling, and had been some daysChuang Tzŭ says seven dayswithout food. In the Analects we have merely a complaint by one of the disciples, rebuked by Confucius, that superior men should have to suffer
privations. Chuang Tzŭ represents Confucius as singing, to relieve the tension, and stopping to say to one of the disciples, There is no beginning and no end. Man and God are One. That being the case, who was singing just now?" In another passage we read, "The ultimate end is God. He is manifested in the laws of nature. He is the hidden spring. At the beginning, He was. This, however," Chuang Tzŭ adds, "is inexplicable. It is unknowable. But from the unknowable we reach the known."
After this, it may be a surprise to find that God was not the ultimate Supreme Power recognized by Chuang Tzŭ, as an exponent of the doctrines of Lao Tzŭ. In spite of the lofty position accorded, as we have seen, to God, there was somethingwe cannot say someoneon which Chuang Tzŭ, following Lao Tzŭ, made God Himself dependent, not only for power, but even for His very existence. This something was called by Lao Tzŭ Tao, meaning, as it means in common parlance to this day, a way, a road, a path. In Confucianism it is used for the true path, like the ὁδός of the New Testament, or the Buddhist marga, the path which leads to Nirvâna; and it subsequently comes to mean doctrines, and even religion. Han Fei, a philosopher of the third century B.C., tells us that matter which is subject to structural changes cannot be regarded as eternal; it came into being with heaven and earth, and with heaven and earth it will pass away. But the eternal is unconditioned; and therefore it was that Lao Tzŭ explained, in reference to Tao,
[paragraph continues] "The way which can be walked upon is not the eternal Way."
To translate the Tao of Lao Tzŭ and of Chuang Tzŭ by the Way, is, as will be shown, a mere makeshift; the word is untranslatable. Chuang Tzŭ says, "A man looks upon God as his father, and loves Him in like measure. Shall he, then, not love that which is greater than God?"meaning Tao, the omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal something which invests even God Himself with the power and attributes of divinity. In the words of Chuang Tzŭ, "Tao has its laws, and its evidences. It is devoid both of action and of form. It may be transmitted, but cannot be taken. It may be obtained, but cannot be seen. Before heaven and earth were, Tao was. It has existed without change from all time. Spiritual beings drew their spirituality therefrom, while the universe became what we see it now. To Tao, the zenith is not high, nor the nadir low; no point in time is long ago, nor by lapse of ages has Tao itself grown old."
Chuang Tzŭ proceeds to enumerate several famous sovereigns and others of antiquity who, by virtue of Tao, succeeded in all their undertakings. Among these he includes some striking and familiar objects in nature. "The constellation of the Great Bear obtained Tao, and has never erred from its course. The sun and moon obtained it, and have never ceased to revolve." We have now to face the apparent paradox that although Tao can be obtained, nevertheless it cannot be taught. Of this Chuang Tzŭ
gives several illustrative anecdotes. A man who was asked how in old age he still managed to keep the complexion of a child, replied that it was the result of Tao; and he went on to say that in a case in which he had caused a pupil to become, so to speak, possessed by Tao, he had succeeded, not by teaching but by not teaching. "I imparted," he explained, "as though withholding; and within three days, for him, this sublunary state (with all its paltry distinctions of sovereign and subject, high and low, good and bad, etc.) had ceased to exist. When he had attained to this, I withheld again; and in seven days more, for him, the external world had ceased to be. And so again for another nine days, when he became unconscious of his own self. He was first etherealized, next possessed of perfect wisdom, then without past or present, and finally able to enter there where life and death are no more, where killing does not take away life, nor does the prolongation of life add to the duration of existence."
Chuang Tzŭ is the greatest of the heterodox writers of China. His work is highly esteemed for its trenchant and beautiful style, but it is none the less under the ban of the orthodox. The reason for this is obvious. Confucianism is satirized, and Confucius himself is held up to ridicule as unable to refute the doctrine of Tao, and even becoming a convert to its tenets. Chuang Tzŭ invents a story of three men who were conversing together, when it was asked, "Who can be, and yet not be? Who can do, and yet not do? Who can mount to heaven, and, roaming
through the clouds, pass beyond the limits of space, oblivious of existence, for ever and ever without end?" The three looked at each other and smiled; and as neither had any misgivings, they became friends accordingly. Shortly afterwards, one of them, named Sang Hu, died; whereupon Confucius sent a disciple to take part in the mourning. The disciple found one of the two survivors playing on a psaltery, or Chinese lute, and the other singing,
[paragraph continues] "How can you sing," cried the disciple, "alongside of a corpse? Is this decorum?" The two looked at each other and laughed, saying, What should this man know of decorum indeed?" The disciple then hurried back and reported to Confucius, who said, "These men travel beyond the rule of life. I travel within it. Consequently our paths do not meet; and I was wrong in sending you to mourn. They consider themselves as one with God, recognizing no distinctions between human and divine. They look on life as a huge tumour from which death sets them free. All the same, they know not where they were before birth, nor where they will be after death. Though admitting different elements, they take their stand upon the unity of all things. They ignore their passions. They take no count of their ears and eyes. Backward and forward through all eternity, they do not admit a beginning or an end. They
stroll beyond the dust and dirt of mortality, to wander in the realms of inaction. How should such men trouble themselves with the conventionalities of this world, or care what people may think of them?" "But if this is the case," said the disciple, "why should we stick to the old rule?" "God has condemned me to this," replied Confucius; "nevertheless you and I may perhaps escape from it."
This last sentiment, from the mouth of the Master, would be sufficiently shocking to any devout Confucianist, but is as nothing compared with another episode, to appreciate which a few preliminary remarks may be necessary, to recall certain facts which bear upon the situation. Confucius founded his teachings upon charity of heart, duty towards one's neighbour, wisdom, and truth, with such adventitious aids to morality as music and ceremonies. But Chuang Tzŭ, expounding the doctrines of Lao Tzŭ, taught that all restrictions are artificial, and therefore deceptive; only by shaking off such fetters, and reverting to the natural, could man hope to attain. He maintained that distinctions of right and wrong, of meum and tuum, and other ethical refinements, were but the inventions of philosophers, and would have no place under simple conditions of existence. To quote a single instance, he argued that if all scales and measures were destroyed, the people would cease at once to wrangle over quantities, and the result would be the victory of Tao. We may now approach the episode.
"I am getting on," observed a favourite disciple to
[paragraph continues] Confucius. "How so?" asked the latter. "I have got rid of charity of heart and duty towards my neighbour," replied the disciple. "Very good," said Confucius, "but not perfect." Another day the disciple met Confucius again and said, "I am getting on." "How so?" asked Confucius. "I have got rid of music and ceremonies." "Very good," said Confucius, "but not perfect." On a third occasion the two met once more, and the disciple said, "I am getting on." "How so?" asked Confucius, as before. "I have got rid of everything," replied the disciple. "Got rid of everything!" cried Confucius eagerly, "what do you mean by that?" "I have freed myself from my body," said the disciple. "I have discarded my reasoning powers. And by thus getting rid of both body and mind, I have become One with the Infinite." "In that case," said Confucius, "I trust to be allowed to follow in your steps."
There is a rather fascinating chapter in which Chuang Tzŭ employs allegory to aid in the elucidation of Tao. Knowledge set forth on his travels, and meeting Do-nothing Say-nothing, thus addressed him: "Kindly tell me by what thoughts, by what cogitations, may Tao be known? By resting in what, by according with what, by pursuing what, may Tao be attained?" Getting no answer, he went off, and by and by meeting All-in-extremes, he put the same questions. "Ha!" cried All-in-extremes, "I know; I will tell you. . . ." But just as he was about to speak, he forgot what he wanted to say. So Knowledge proceeded to the Imperial palace and
asked the Yellow Emperor (B.C. 2698), who is often associated with Lao Tzŭ as an exponent of Tao, and even as a contemporary, though separated, according to received chronology, by some two thousand years. "By having no thoughts, by having no cogitations," answered the Yellow Emperor, "Tao can be known. By resting in nothing, by according with nothing, Tao can be approached. By following nothing, by pursuing nothing, Tao can be obtained." And he added, "Those who understand, do not speak; those who speak, do not understand. Therefore the inspired man teaches a doctrine which does not find expression in words." These last two sentences have been attributed to Lao Tzŭ, and constitute the basis of his doctrine of Silence; but the authority of Chuang Tzŭ is too great to be lightly brushed aside.
The still more famous doctrine of InactionDo nothing and all things will be donewhich is also attributed to Lao Tzŭ, appears in Chuang Tzŭ as an actual utterance by the Yellow Emperor. The doctrine itself is discussed in several passages. For instance: "I make true happiness consist in inaction. Thus, perfect happiness is the absence of happiness." This seems to mean that the non-existence of any state or condition necessarily includes the non-existence of its correlate. If we do not have happiness, we are at once exempt from misery; and such a negative state is a state of perfect happiness. Again, "To act through inaction is God," so excellent are the results achieved, especially, we are told, in government. In an allegorical passage Chuang Tzŭ makes
the Vital Principle say, "That the scheme of empire is in confusion, that the proper conditions of life are violated, that the will of God does not triumph, that the beasts of the field are disorganized, that the birds of the air cry at night, that blight reaches the trees and herbs, that destruction spreads among creeping thingsthis, alas! is the fault of governing. Rest in inaction, and the world will be good of itself. Cast your slough. Spit forth intelligence. Ignore all differences. Become one with the Infinite. Release your mind. Free your soul. Be vacuous. Be nothing!"
We find a sudden transition to more practical politics in an answer which Lao Tzŭ is supposed to have given to one who asked him, saying, "If the empire is not to be governed, how are men's hearts to be kept in order?" "Be careful," replied Lao Tzŭ, "not to interfere with the natural goodness of the heart of man. Man's heart may be forced down or stirred up; in each case the issue is fatal. By gentleness the hardest heart may be softened. But try to cut and polish it;twill glow like fire or freeze like ice. In the twinkling of an eye it will pass beyond the Four Seas. In repose, profoundly still; in motion, far away in the sky. No bolt can bar, no bond can bind;such is the human heart."
Among other philosophers who quote sayings by Lao Tzŭ may be mentioned a grandson of the founder of the Han dynasty, known as the. prince of Huai-nan. He died in 122 B.C., leaving behind him a large work, the first chapter of which is devoted to the origin of Tao, and the rest to what we may now begin to
call the doctrines of Taoism. "Tao," he says, "covers the sky, and supports the earth; it stretches to, and includes, the four quarters and the eight boundaries of space; its height cannot be measured, nor its depth fathomed;" and so on. Among the sayings of Lao Tzŭ he quotes these words; "Follow diligently Tao in your own heart, but make no display of it to the world," which may be compared with an almost identical utterance by Christ: "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them." Another saying is, "He who, knowing himself to be strong, is content to be weakhe shall be a cynosure of men." Again, "The softest things in the world override the hardest; that which has no substance enters where there is no crevice. And so I know that there is advantage in Inaction." In illustration of this last, the prince of Huai-nan borrowed, without acknowledgment, the following anecdote from Chuang Tzŭ: "Light asked Nothing if it really existed or not. Nothing did not answer, so Light set to work to watch it. All of a sudden, he could not see it, or hear it, or touch it. 'Bravo!' cried Light. 'Who is equal to that? I can get to be nothing, but I cannot get to be not nothing.'" Chuang Tzŭ himself gives another short anecdote in which "nothing'' is made to take the part of Inaction. The Yellow Emperor, he tells us, having lost his magic pearl, employed Intelligence to find it, but without success. He then employed Sight, and next Speech, but in each case without success. Finally he employed Nothing, and Nothing got it. The key
to this is that he did not employ Nothing to find the pearl. He simply employed Nothing.
A miracle recorded by the prince of Huai-nan shows that good Taoists get their rewards in this world as well as in the next, and also recalls the famous miracle of the sun standing still upon Gibeon, and the moon upon Ajalon. A duke of Lu-yang, described as a man of true and perfect nature, whose being was in relationship with God, happened to be at war with another State. Sunset was fast approaching, while a furious battle was still raging; and the duke, in order to gain time, shook his spear at the sun, which forthwith went back three out of the twenty-eight Chinese divisions of the zodiac. Legend has, of course, been busy with the name of the prince of Huai-nan. He is said to have discovered the elixir of life, and to have gone up to heaven in consequence. He is said, with more show of probability, to have dabbled in alchemy, the first notions of which are thought to have reached China from the province of Græco-Bactria. Alchemy is at any rate mentioned in the Historical Record under the year 133 B.C. A certain magician, who was able to do without food and possessed the art of putting off old age, addressed the reigning Emperor as follows: "Sacrifice to the stove and you will be able to summon spirits. With their aid, powdered cinnabar can be transmuted into yellow gold. When you have obtained yellow gold, you will be able to make vessels for holding food and drink; and by using these, you will secure a great prolongation of life."
From this date we have no longer to deal with the original Tao of Lao Tzŭ, as expounded by Chuang Tzŭ, Han Fei Tzŭ, Hsün Tzŭ, and to some extent by the prince of Huai-nan. Alchemy and the search for the elixir of life were both incorporated at an early date in the doctrines of the religion henceforth to be known as Taoism; and various forms of magic, incantations, and exorcism were soon added. A further and still greater modification has yet to be dealt with in its proper place.
The Historical Record states, under the year 140 B.C., that the Empress Dowager, grandmother of the reigning Emperor, "studied the words of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzŭ, and did not care for the precepts of Confucianism;" and in the history of the Han dynasty we are further told that, under the preceding reign, "the Emperor and the all Empress Dowager's family were obliged to study Tzŭ and follow his teachings." What were these "words of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzŭ," this "Lao Tzŭ" now to be studied by the Court in preference to Confucianism? So far, we have only heard of sayings by Lao Tzŭ, embedded in the writings of certain authors, to whom they had been handed down by tradition; we have never heard of a book. Confucius, Tso-chiu Ming, the writer of the commentary, and Mencius, as we have already seen, never mention Lao Tzŭ at all. Chuang Tzŭ, Han Fei Tzŭ, Hsün Tzŭ, and the prince of Huai-nan, who devote so many chapters to Lao Tzŭ and Tao, make no mention of a book. At the point where we`
are now, that is, towards the middle of the second century B.C., we gather that not only were the words of Lao Tzŭ brought together into book form, but were canonized, in deference to the Dowager Empress, as a sacred text. From that date, we are told, began the study of the Tao. Official patronage however, was not just then of long duration; for in the same year under which it is recorded that the Empress Dowager "studied the words of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzŭ," her grandson, who had but lately mounted the throne, put a stop to the glorification of Lao Tzŭ, and reinstated Confucian doctrines.
The next stage in this inquiry into the rise and development of Taoism carries us, in point of time, hardly any further down. Ssŭ-ma Chien, the father of Chinese history, must have been born about the middle of the second century B.C. The date of his death has been fixed at 87 B.C. He was the author of the Historical Record, in which, for the first time in Chinese literature, we find Lao Tzŭ mentioned as the writer of a book. The historian, after a few details as to Lao Tzŭ's birthplace and profession, in which pious interpolations are not far to seek, proceeds to relate the supposed, but impossible, interview of Confucius with Lao Tzŭ. Then comes the following passage: "In his cultivation of Tao and of Tê (which means the exemplification of Tao), Lao Tzŭ made self-effacement and absence of reputation his chief aims. After a long residence in Chow, he saw that the State was decaying; so he departed, and reached the frontier-pass. The warden of the
pass said to him, 'Sir, as you are about to go into retirement, I earnestly beg that you will write a book for me.' Thereupon Lao Tzŭ wrote a book in two parts, on the meaning of Tao and Tê, containing five thousand words and more. After this, he departed, and no one knows what became of him."
We have such a book in "five thousand words and more," which answers, except as regards date of authorship, to the book to which Ssŭ-ma Chien alludes, but which he does not appear to have seen. Different editions contain varying numbers of words, the average being about five thousand six hundred and fifty. It would be impossible to regard it as the work of Lao Tzŭ, say five and a half centuries before Christ, even if we could feel sure that Lao Tzŭ flourished at that date. For a long list of critical reasons, which cannot be reproduced here, it is practically certain that this book was pieced together, perhaps in the second century B.C., by a not too skilful forger. Sayings attributed to Lao Tzŭ were collected from all sources, and padded out with a supplementary text, which when not unintelligible is absurd. A small volume was thus produced, which, although it has not prevailed against the wit of native critics, has been quite a happy hunting-ground for the foreign student, ambitious to translate a Chinese text. Thus, it has been rendered many times into English and other European languages, with one uniform result. No two translators have ever agreed as to its meaning. Even the modern title of the book, Tao Tê Ching, which dates only
from the sixth century A.D., has been interpreted in various senses. Po Chü-i, a famous poet of the eighth and ninth centuries, hit off the situation as follows:
Assuming, as seems probable, that some such personage as Lao Tzŭ, even though confused with the Yellow Emperor, did actually exist at some remote period, and that he is responsible for the more intelligible portions of the Tao Tê Ching, we can only conclude that he must have been one of those men whom the Chinese call "inspired," a term now reserved for the apostles of Confucianism.
The book has been divided into eighty-one chapters; and in chapter lxiii we find a command, familiar enough to Christians, but remarkable as occurring in Chinese literature at a very early date:
with which we may compare the words of the New Testament, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. xii. 21). It has already been stated that Confucius never made any allusion to Lao Tzŭ. There is, however, one passage given in his discourses with his disciples which proves that this famous doctrine, whatever may have been its source, was already matter of common knowledge. Here are the actual words: "Someone said to Confucius, 'Recompense injury with kindness. What do
you think of that?' Confucius replied, 'With what then will you recompense kindness? Injury must be recompensed with justice, kindness with kindness.'" Another saying by Lao Tzŭ in the same strain runs thus: "To the good I would be good; to the not-good I would also be good, in order to make them good." At the same time it is elsewhere pointed out that "the goodness of doing good is not (real) goodness."
Several advanced political maxims are to be found in the Tao Tê Ching; for instance, "Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish"don't overdo it; pas trop gouverner, as we say. Again, "The empire is a divine trust, and may not be ruled. He who rules, ruins; he who holds by force, loses." So also there are practical injunctions for everyday life: "Put yourself behind, and the world will put you in front," "If you would take, you must first give," and others.
There are some few references to the God of the ancient Chinese. In chapter ix humility is described as the Way of God. In chapter xvi we have the following weak climax, which has not been identified as a genuine utterance, and seems, so far as one can venture to judge by the style, to come from a modern source: "He who is tolerant is just; he who is just is a king; he who is a king is God; he who is God is Tao; he who is Tao is long lasting, and will be all his life free from danger." In chapter xlvii we have, "Without going out of doors, we may know all about the empire; without looking
out of window, we may behold the Way of God." Chapter lix opens with, "In governing man and in serving God, there is nothing like self-restraint."
All kinds of contentions were frowned upon by Lao Tzŭ, as we learn from many passages in Chuang Tzŭ, some of which have already been quoted. In chapter lxviii we are told that "the best soldiers do not fight," and that anyone who can free himself from the desire for such contentions is worthy to be "the peer of God," using the old phrase with which we are familiar in the Odes. In chapter lxxiii we have two, if not three, disconnected allusions, reminiscent of the Deity in ancient Chinese literature. The first is in doggerel:
[paragraph continues] The others are (1) "The Way of God is, without contending, to win; without speaking, to get an answer; without beckoning, to cause spontaneous coming; without moving, to be skilful in planning"; and (2) "God's net is irresistible; its meshes are large, but there is no escape." In chapter lxxvii there is a curious passage which has not so far been discovered among the genuine Fragmenta, as quoted by known writers, yet which bears upon its face the stamp of authenticity: "The Way of God is like the drawing of a bow, which brings down the high and exalts the low"just as in Luke i. 52 we read, "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." "It takes from those who have too much, and gives to those who have too
little"a statement which is in direct opposition to Christ's oft-repeated saying (Matt. xiii. 12), "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath." Chapter lxxix is short and may be translated in full; it adds one more to what may be styled the Christian sentiments of the Old Philosopher: "When peace is made after great animosity, there is always a surplus of animosity left behind. Is not this wrong? Accordingly, the inspired man, when a creditor, does not exact his claim. An honest man strives to fulfil his contracts; a dishonest man, to evade them. The Way of God has no partialities; it is always on the side of the just." Chapter lxxxi has one final allusion to God: "The Way of God is profitable and not injurious." This conclusion is based upon a sentence taken from Chuang Tzŭ, which states, with reference to those who sincerely follow Tao, that "the more they give away, the more they have for themselves."
Such is the Tao Tê Ching. As a whole, it does not help us to a more intimate apprehension of the doctrines of Lao Tzŭ than we can obtain from the isolated sayings embalmed in the writings of various philosophers and attributed by them to him. One point especially to be noticed is the persistence, even where cobwebs of mysticism hang most thickly, of the old idea of a personal if not anthropomorphic God.
At this juncture, say the first century B.C., we must temporarily take leave of Taoism. It was then, and
continued to be for some time, a mixture of philosophy and superstition which interested a certain number of persons; but it was in no sense, what it came to be at a later date, a serious rival to Confucianism. The latter, meanwhile, held undisputed sway. The damage done by the Burning of the Books had been to a great extent repaired; and the Canon, with commentaries which satisfied the scholars of those days, was at the disposition of all students. But neither did the text of the Canon, still less the various commentaries, nor the doctrines as therein set forth, continue, as time went on, to satisfy everybody. Between B.C. 53 and A.D. 18 there flourished a distinguished writer, named Yang Hsiung, who, although he would have resented any attack upon his orthodoxy as a Confucianist, was nevertheless unable to accept the dogma that the nature of a man at birth is good. Neither would he follow Hsün Tzŭ and accept his conclusion that the nature of man is evil. He propounded an ethical criterion occupying a middle place between the two extremes, teaching that the nature is neither good nor evil, but a mixture of both, and that development in either direction depends wholly on environment. Subsequently, there arose what nowadays we should call a school of higher criticism. The chief exponent of this school was a scholar named Wang Chung, who was born in A.D. 27. From his earliest years he showed marked signs of great literary ability. It is recorded that he used to stroll about the market-place, reading at bookstalls the books he was too poor to buy, his
memory being so retentive that a single perusal was sufficient to fix the contents of a volume. After a short spell of official life, he retired dissatisfied to his home, and there composed his great work, the Lun Hêng or "Animadversions," in which he criticizes freely the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and tilts generally against the errors and superstitions of his day. Once again he took up official life, but for two years only; after which he went back into private life and occupied himself with literature, chiefly of a reforming character. He memorialized the throne on the prevailing vice and extravagance; and in the days of a drunken China, he pleaded for the prohibition of alcohol; but in both cases without attracting the Emperor's attention. He was ultimately summoned to Court. The summons, however, came too late; he was already very ill, and died soon afterwards, aged about seventy. He is justly ranked as a heterodox thinker, as some extracts from his writings will speedily prove.
"The Confucianists of the present day," says Wang Chung, "have great faith in their Master and accept antiquity as the standard of right. They strain every nerve to explain and practise the words which are attributed to their sages and inspired men. The writings, however, of these sages and inspired men, over which much thought and research have been spent, cannot be said to be infallibly true; how much less, then, can their casual utterances be so? But although their utterances are not true, people generally do not know how to convict them; and even if
their utterances were true, because of the difficulty of grasping abstruse ideas, people generally would not know how to criticize them. I find that the words of these sages and inspired men are often contradictory, the value of one passage being frequently destroyed by the language of a later passage; but the scholars of our day do not see this. It is invariably said that the seventy disciples of Confucius were superior in talent to the Confucian scholars of to-day; but this is nonsense. According to that view, Confucius was a Master, and the inspired men who preached his doctrines must have been exceptionally gifted, and therefore different (from our scholars). The fact is that there is no difference. Those whom we now call men of genius, the ancients called inspired or divine beings; and therefore it has been said that men like the seventy disciples have rarely been heard of since that time."
The criticisms which Wang Chung passes on Confucius and his teachings often seem to us trivial enough; as, for instance, when he takes exception to the language used by Confucius on finding a disciple asleep in the day-time. "Rotten wood cannot be carved," cried the angry Master; "you cannot build a wall of manure. This fellowwhat is the use of my reproving him?" Wang Chung thinks that sleeping in the day-time is a small fault after all, and should not entail comparison with things that are useless or loathsome. If the disciple were no better than rotten wood or manure, he should not have been admitted to an intimacy with Confucius; if, on
the other hand, there was nothing else against him, then he was too harshly treated.
Wang Chung is not always quite so trivial as in the above example. There is a passage in the Lun Yü as follows: "Confucius was expressing a wish to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. Someone said, 'They are uncivilized; how could you do so?' Confucius replied, 'If a superior man dwelt among them, they would not be uncivilized.'" Upon this, Wang Chung remarks that Confucius was obviously dissatisfied with the progress of his doctrines in the Middle Kingdom, and therefore wanted to go away among the wild tribes. "But," he asks, "if Confucianism cannot prevail in the Middle Kingdom, how is it going to prevail among savages?" He follows this up by the use of a deadly weaponrefutation of a speaker by words from the speaker's own mouth: "Did not Confucius himself say in another passage, 'The wild tribes of the east, with their chiefs, are not equal to China with its anarchy.' And if a doctrine cannot be made to prevail where the conditions are satisfactory, how can this be effected where the conditions are unsatisfactory?"
Whatever value Wang Chung's criticisms may have from the philosophic point of view, they certainly help us to realize the vigorous domination of Confucianism in the first century A.D., and the jealous guardianship which branded as a heretic anyone who disputed its authority even in the merest trifles. The Chinese have always been very tolerant of each other's religious convictions, and it was not customary
in ancient China to burn persons alive for so-called errors of faith; still, at no period of Chinese history would it have been quite safe to denounce Confucius openly and in unmeasured terms as nothing better than an impostor.
Turning now to a number of passages in which Wang Chung discusses the existence and attributes of a Deity, it is noticeable how often he confuses Tien, God, with tien, the sky. In a few places he employs the term Shang Ti, and then, of course, we can only understand a personal God, a concept which, speaking generally, seems to be quite familiar to him, and for which he is directly indebted to his knowledge of the Confucian Canon. Thus, we read that Shang Ti granted extra years of life to a virtuous ruler; in which connexion Wang Chung takes occasion to point out that the ruler in question was not particularly virtuous, and that other rulers of a more virtuous type had often died young. "There are but few good men in the empire," he goes on to argue, "and many bad ones. The good follow right principles, and the bad defy the will of God. Yet the lives of bad men are not therefore shortened, nor the lives of good men prolonged. How is it that God does not arrange that the virtuous shall always enjoy a hundred years of life, and that the wicked shall die young, as punishment for their guilt?"
There was a case of a young prince who had been unjustly done to death and whose grave had been violated. His spirit appeared to a retainer and told
him that God had promised to punish the guilty one. "But God," said Wang Chung, denouncing the story, "is a public Spirit. Would a public Spirit take heed of a complaint addressed to Him on a private grievance?" Other stories of alleged visits to heaven, and interviews with God (Shang Ti), are similarly dismissed by Wang Chung as preposterous. With regard to Tien, the very character for which is, as we have already seen, beyond doubt anthropomorphic, he has great difficulty in shaking himself free from the idea of "sky," in spite of numerous quotations from the Canon for which any other rendering than God would be impossible. Speaking of heaven and earth as the alleged parents of all things, he argues, to begin with, that heaven, meaning the sky, cannot possess mouth and eyes because the earth has none. Then, that heaven and earth cannot really be the authors of all creation, basing his argument upon an old story told by several other writers, as follows: "A man of the Sung State took a piece of ivory in order to carve a mulberry-leaf for his prince. He spent three years over the work, and succeeded in turning out a leaf so exact in every detail that if placed among other real mulberry-leaves no one could tell the difference. A certain philosopher, however, said, 'If God Almighty were to spend three years over every leaf, there would not be much foliage on the trees.'" On this Wang Chung further enlarges: "Look at the hair and feathers of animals and birds, with their various colourings; can these have all been made? At that
rate, animals and birds would never be finished. In spring we see plants growing, and in autumn we see them full-grown. Can heaven and earth have done this, or do things grow of themselves? If we say that heaven and earth have done it, they must have used hands for the purpose. Do heaven and earth possess many thousands or many myriads of hands, so that they can produce many thousands and many myriads of things, all at the same time?"
Altogether, it seems to be a mistake to regard tien, the sky, as the correlate of earth, except in the sense of ordinary phenomena. So soon as we have any expression of power, or of action, the word loses its meaningafter all, the later meaningof sky, and reverts to what was its original meaning, God. In one remarkable passage, Wang Chung introduces, simultaneously, God, Tien, and God, Shang Ti, as though they were distinct personages, and he makes Shang Ti subordinate to Tien. The reference is to a drought which occurred during the reign of Tang the Completer, who came to the throne in 1766 B.C., and which had persisted for several years. The Emperor repaired alone to a grove of mulberry-trees, and having first cut off his hair and bound his hands, he offered up the following prayer: "If I alone am guilty, may my guilt not affect the welfare of the people; and if the guilt be theirs, may the punishment fall on me alone." Granting that the Emperor was in fault, Wang Chung points out that "because of one man's folly, God, Tien, employed God, Shang Ti, to injure the lives of the people." Then, because
that man presented himself, with prayer, as a victim, "God, Shang Ti, was so pleased that rain fell at once."
Throughout his work, Wang Chung sets his face steadily against all forms of supernatural intervention; he will never allow that post hoc is necessarily propter hoc. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that he adds these words: "That the Emperor personally prayed in the mulberry-grove, that his self-indictment was as mentioned, that he cut off his hair and bound his hands, thus offering himself as a victim, and that he implored Godall this may be true; but the statement that rain fell in consequence seems to be a fable. . . . It is probable that, as the drought had been lasting a long time, rain fell as a matter of course, directly after the Emperor had been accusing himself of being the cause of the drought; and that the people of that day, noticing the coincidence, thought that the rain had come in answer to prayer." Belief in divination is ridiculed by Wang Chung, who argues at length to show that the will of God cannot be discovered through any arrangement of reeds or grasses or manifestations on the shell of the tortoise. His view is that people who are going to be lucky get favourable responses; those who are going to be unlucky get the reverse.
Wang Chung's rather shadowy and inconsistent conception of God may be roughly summed up in a few words. He rejects anthropomorphism pure and simple: God cannot have mouth and eyes. At the same time, he gives his Deity a body and locates
[paragraph continues] Him in the sky; he seems to favour the belief that the Deity lives in a palace, as a king on earth, but from this seclusion he argues that God cannot have intimate knowledge of human affairs. He does not believe that thunder is the expression of God's anger, or, indeed, that God is ever angry with mankind. "All creatures," he says, "are to God like children, and the kindness and love of father and mother are the same to all their children." But this fatherhood ceases to have significance in the face of frequent statements that God is really an immaterial fluid, which neither makes itself heard nor visible, nor does it act in any way, except as a spontaneous informing influence which ceaselessly operates throughout the universe.
If it is not easy to disentangle Wang Chung's beliefs as to the existence of a God, there is no longer any difficulty when we come to the question of a world of spirits. To the old question
[paragraph continues] Wang Chung returns a categorical answer. "The dead," he says, "do not become disembodied spirits; neither have they consciousness, nor do they injure anybody. Animals do not become spirits after death; why should man alone undergo this change? That which informs man at his birth is a vital fluid, or soul, and at death this vitality is extinguished, the body decays and becomes dust. How can it become a spirit? Vitality becomes humanity, just as water becomes ice. The ice melts and is water again; man
dies and reverts to the condition of the vital fluid. Death is like the extinction of fire. When a fire is extinguished, its light does not shine any more; and when a man dies, his intellect does not perceive any more. The nature of both is the same. If people, nevertheless, pretend that the dead have knowledge, they are mistaken. The spirits which people see are invariably in the form of human beings, and that very fact is enough of itself to prove that these apparitions cannot be the souls of dead men. If a sack is filled with grain, it will stand up, and is obviously a sack of grain; but if the sack is burst and the grain falls out, then it collapses and disappears from view. Now, man's soul is enfolded in his body as grain in a sack. When the man dies, his body decays and his vitality is dissipated. When the grain is taken away, the sack loses its form; why then, when vitality is gone, should the body obtain a new shape in which to appear again in the world?
"The number of persons who have died since the world began, old, middle-aged, and young, must run into thousands of millions, far exceeding the number of persons alive at the present day. If every one of these has become a disembodied spirit, there must be at least one to every yard as we walk along the road; and those who die now must suddenly find themselves face to face with vast crowds of spirits, filling every house and street. If these spirits are the souls of dead men, they should always appear naked; for surely it is not contended that clothes have souls as well as men. It can further be shown not only that
dead men never become spirits, but also that they are without consciousness, by the simple fact that before birth they are without consciousness. Before birth man rests in God; when he dies he goes back to God. God is vague and without form, and man's soul is there in a state of unconsciousness. The universe is, indeed, full of disembodied spirits, but these are not the souls of dead men. They are beings only of the mind, conjured up for the most part in sickness, when the patient is especially subject to fear. For sickness induces fear of spirits; fear of spirits causes the mind to dwell upon them; and thus apparitions are produced. Even if disembodied spirits did exist, they could not be either pleased or angry with a sacrifice, for the following reason. We must admit that spirits do not require man for their maintenance; for if they did, they would hardly be spirits. If we believe that spirits only smell the sacrifices, which sacrifices are supposed to bring either happiness or misfortune, how do we picture to ourselves the habitations of these spirits? Have they their own provisions stored up, or must they use the food of man to appease their hunger? Should they possess stores of their own, these would assuredly be other than human, and they would not have to eat human food. If they have no provisions of their own, then we should have to make offerings to them every morning and evening; and according as we sacrificed to them or did not sacrifice, they would be satiated or hungry, pleased or angry, respectively."
Wang Chung's attack was directed, not only
against the disembodied spirits of human beings, but against spirits of all kinds. Belief in minor deities inhabiting mountains, rivers, and trees, was shown to be absurd; the Spirit of Pestilence, and even the Spirit of Heaven, used for God in the Odes, by which term he clearly meant something more than the blue sky, were dismissed as mere figments of the imagination. "The people of to-day," he says, "rely on sacrifices. They do not improve their morals, but multiply their prayers; they do not honour their superiors, but are afraid of spirits. When they die, or when misfortune befalls them, these things are ascribed to noxious influences which have not been properly dealt with. When they have been properly dealt with, and offerings have been prepared, and yet misfortunes continue to be as numerous as before, they attribute it all to the sacrifices, declaring that they have not been performed with sufficient reverence."
At Wang Chung's date, Taoism was spreading its wings. Its exponents were known, in Wang Chung's words, "to vie with one another in exhibiting strange tricks and all kinds of miracles," for which no authority is to be found in any of the simple sayings of the Old Philosopher. Wang Chung repeats the storyonly to laugh at itwhich tells how the prince of Huai-nan did finally succeed in preparing the elixir of life. Immediately on tasting the compound, he began to rise from the ground into the air; and, in his excitement, he let fall the bowl from which he had been drinking. The dogs and poultry of his establishment, running to drink up the spilt dregs, at once
began to sail up after him, and the whole party was soon lost to sight in the clouds. "Exorcism," says Wang Chung, "is of no use; sacrifices are of no avail. Wizards and priests have no power, for it is plain that all depends on man, and not on disembodied spirits; on his morality, and not on his sacrifices."
Wang Chung has a place to himself as the first approach to a great materialistic writer. His lettered countrymen, however, do not seem to have fallen to any extent under his influence. Confucianism pursued the even tenor of its way, and Taoism continued, through the agency of magicians, charms, amulets, exorcism of evil spirits, and the like, to satisfy the craving of the masses for a supernatural element in life. Wang Chung failed, for two simple reasons. His logic was in many instances anything but convincing. His attacks upon Confucius and his doctrines outraged feelings that were already deep-set. The Chinese had still to wait many centuries for a teacher who could use Confucianism as a vehicle for the conveyance of materialistic doctrines, and all to the greater glory of Confucius himself. Meanwhile, another rival was at hand.